Slots Q&A with ELK Studios
“There are often things that we as players are frustrated with, so we think of ways to change it.”
ELK Studios is a “boutique” online slots developer that dares to think outside the box. And when it comes to bonuses and features within games, most studios pale in comparison to the fun factor that many of their, including last year’s Bonus Madness winner Nitropolis, have to offer. Today we think of ELK Studios as a “shock entertainer” that can put on an epic show like Alice Cooper.
Celebrating the 5-year anniversary of Wild Toro, let’s hear what Tiger Holmgren, Casino Product Manager, has to say about the highly anticipated sequel, Wild Toro 2, and see what else is on their roadmap for the year and beyond. Join us for that and more in our recent slots Q&A talk.
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Hi, and big thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you give a short introduction to ELK Studios please, and which of your slots would you recommend starting with to somebody who is new to your games?
Tiger Holmgren (TH): ELK Studios was founded in 2013. We are now over 70 employees and we are all based under the same roof in Stockholm, Sweden. We have a wide range of different games, so where to start is more dependent on you as a player. Route777 and Win Win, if you like 3-reel slots, Wild Toro if you like a more classic style slot game. If big reels and massive amounts of ways is your thing, Zulu Gold, Katmandu Gold and Ecuador Gold is something you should try. Cluster Slide is a great cluster game and last but not least our gravity games with Cygnus, Bompers and Io is something completely different that our players love.
How did you end up working in the iGaming industry and what is the best thing about working for ELK Studios?
TH: Like many others, I started playing poker around the year 2000 and this got me interested in other casino games as well. After a few years of living off playing poker, I started working on the casino side. In 2014 I realized that I loved creating casino games, and Netent gave me the opportunity to do it full time and I haven’t looked back since. I have been at ELK for the past few years, and I think that the best thing about ELK is the people I work with. There are some seriously talented people here, that really want to do great games. We constantly help each other to be the best we can.
In our humble opinion, Cygnus back in 2019 really hit the spot and it feels like your slots are just getting better all the time. A lot of hard work and dedication but what else? What is the secret sauce that drives ELK Studios?
TH: Our secret sauce is that we try to think outside the box in casino games. There are often things that we as players are frustrated with, so we think of ways to change it. An example of this, when creating Cygnus, we were frustrated that it was hard to get symbols into play on reels 4, 5 and 6 in avalanching games. By changing the grid and the behaviour of how symbols move we made it possible for symbols that were hard to win on to be in play.
Creating games may sound quite abstract to readers. How do you go about planning a new slot and how long does it usually take to create one game?
TH: If we break it down, there are 3 main parts of the design process.
The first part is the mechanics of the game. The mechanics are the basic rules of a game, meaning if the game will have spinning or dropping symbols, how many reels and rows and all the different features of a game. We generally prototype this and figure out what we think makes a fun game without any cool graphics.
Secondly, when we think that we have something that is fun to play on the mechanical side, we give it to one of our development teams. The team will start with preproduction, where we decide on the theme and graphical style in the game. We then start with creating all art, animations and code needed to make the game work as we want to.
The last step is to certify the game and game server. This is done by a test house that makes sure that all the payouts are correct and that we follow all rules in all the different markets in the world.
The evolution of slots has been dramatic especially for the past five years. Entertainment value is everything but also a push towards higher win potential. Looking at the history of your slot releases, it’s hard to find games that top 10,000x bet. Why is that?
TH: The reasoning behind it comes down to how we distribute wins in the game, we would rather want 5 players to win 10,000x than 1 person winning 50,000x. This is to give more players a better game experience.
We have taken the decision to cap our games at 10,000x so that we can distribute the RTP in a way we feel is better.
The return to player or RTP is another hot topic that is becoming harder to ignore when choosing which games to play. What is your standpoint on this as a developer?
TH: As a developer, our standpoint is that we need to deliver great games to the players. We have taken the decision that we only offer games with an RTP above 95% to our players, and most of our games are 96% and above.
At the same time, if a jurisdiction would have regulations on RTP, we will always follow the rules if there are any for a specific market.
Wild Toro is one of the legendary greats in your portfolio and now a sequel to this legendary slot has finally been made. We are quite thrilled so what can we expect from it?
TH: You can expect an updated version of the original game. We didn’t want to go too far from the original idea but instead elevating the game to reflect what players expect from casino games now. You will get Expanding Reels, Matador Respins, Walking Wilds and The Toro can still go Berzerk and add tons of Wilds. We have also added multipliers in the game for some extra spice.
Everybody wants to stand out from the crowd. What would you consider as the greatest innovations by ELK Studios to this day?
TH: I don’t think that a single slot is our best innovation so far even if Cygnus really did something that no slot before had done. For me, our game mode X-iter is our greatest innovation so far. It gives 5 different bonus modes to play in our games. These can be the bonus game, Super bonus with added features or just playing the different game features on their own. X-iter can be found in several games, Bompers, Nitropolis 2, Cluster Slide and Zulu Gold are some of them.
You have had a bit different approach to Feature Buy slots with X-iter. We really believe it adds to the gaming experience. How did you end up inventing the X-iter and what has been the reception among players?
TH: We wanted to create a way for players to play their favourite features in the game, and that is as simple as it is. There are players who want to see special features and don’t want to wait for the feature to trigger in the game, so we provided a shortcut to it and our players have really found the feature. A really big portion of all spins in the game is made in the X-iter mode.
Competition is fierce, but ELK Studios doesn’t pale in comparison to the giants of the industry. Do you have any favourite slots from other game providers?
TH: A normal play session for me, when I am playing slots is to try out new games, not only to see new features but also to see what gets me excited in different games. With that said there are a few games I always go back to nearly every play session since I like them so much. Jammin’ Jars from Push Gaming, Serpent Shrine from Fantasma, and Rise of Olympus from Play’n GO are 3 of the games I can’t stop playing.
To wrap it up, what can we expect from ELK Studios later this year? Will the Gold saga continue and can you at this point reveal any new features you already have in store for your upcoming slots?
TH: Currently, we are celebrating the 5-year anniversary of Wild Toro. We decided to launch 3 different Toro games.
The First one out is Wild Toro 2 with expanding reels, Matador Respins, Walking Wilds and a Toro that can go Berzerk and add tons of Wilds.
Secondly, we have Book of Toro. Book of Toro is a classic “Book of” game with a twist. We have added a Mummy Respin feature, Toro is back and is as always, a Walking Wild. If Toro sees a Mummy on the reels, he will go Wild and run along the reels leaving wilds behind him and create Expanding Wilds. The classic Book-style Free Spins is also in the game where a symbol is selected, and expand to give scatter pays. It is possible to retrigger the Free Spins to have up to 3 different expanding symbols in each spin. We also added a twist in the bonus game. If Wild Toro lands in the bonus game he will also substitute for all the Scatter pay symbols, adding a ton of extra wins.
The third Toro game we are releasing is a 3-reel game called Toro 7s. It comes with 17 connecting lines, a Nudging Wild and a Multiplier Wild. If both wilds land on the reels the Multiplier Wild symbol will stay on the reels until the Nudging Wild nudges out of view, leaving behind some huge wins most of the time. The Free Spins is played with a multiplier, and it also has an additional bonus game we call the casino game, where you collect 7s from the reels to win the big cash.